Since Emma Watson’s famous UN speech on September 20th, 2014, and the HeForShe campaign after her appointment as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, the term “Gender Equality” seems to be the most frequently used word in the current global socio-political scenario. It has turned into a worldwide movement with a heated argument on either side of the debate. Feminism seems to have been revived once again by the efforts of many dedicated activists, and liberalist masculism was born in recent history. There is strong support and opposition to masculism, its necessity, and relation with feminism. What are feminism and masculism though? What does “Gender Equality” really mean? In my personal experience there still seems to be some confusion about these concepts. I will try to clarify my own belief and understanding about Gender Equality.
The origin of feminism can be found in the 19th Century, when Charles Fourier (a French Philosopher and Utopian Socialist) coined the term “féminisme” in 1837. What was born out of discussions and arguments of philosophers snowballed into a gigantic movement which has left its mark in the history of the world as one of the most important milestones. The time period when feminism first fractured the solid walls of social structures cemented by centuries of patriarchal society is called First Wave Feminism. It mainly focused on basic issues such as promotion of equal marriage, parenting, and property rights for women.
Basic demands of the right of women to vote and contest for electoral office was called Women’s Suffrage and the activists were called Suffragettes and Suffragists. Suffragists believed in constitutional campaigning whereas Suffragettes believed in much more aggressive methods and frequently resorted to violence. Ripples of this can be found all over the globe. The demand for women’s suffrage was growing each day and yet it took till the late 20th century for many places to grant equal voting rights for women. By that time, the Second Wave had already hit the world. This time, the fight was for the family, workplace, and reproductive rights. It also drew attention to a variety of related issues like domestic violence, marital and premarital rape, custody and divorce laws etc. The movement was gaining popularity rapidly and also worldwide support and recognition.
After the fight for Marriage Equality began, the Third Wave of Feminism has gained ground since the late 1990s, encompassing an even wider range of unresolved problems and also including the rights of homosexual women. And it’s still going on.
Now there is no denying that we have come a long way since the old days, but there is still a long way to go. There seems to be an argument questioning the need for feminism in the 21st Century. It’s a sad truth but yes, we still do need feminism. Violence against women is still rampant in almost every corner of the world, equal pay for equal work is unavailable even in the most developed nations, and female objectification is a silent killer. Complementarianism and fixed gender roles are very common in developing nations leading to stereotyping. Despite a fight that has lasted over 100 years, the need for feminism is more evident now than ever before.
All this considered, I feel obliged to address the somewhat dark side of feminism, too. Just like every other ideology, feminism has been a victim of extremism. Radical feminism is a destructive force, with the potential to do as much damage as misogyny. Feminism itself is facing a serious threat from radicalism.
Radical feminism fosters the principles of misandry. The ideology behind this belief seems to have originated out of the need for retribution for the suppression of women. Misandrists believe in role reversal and the establishment of a matriarchal society. They advocate man-hate. Like every other form of radicalism, radical feminism is not going to be helpful in the establishment of an equal society; instead, it might just end up destroying all credibility from feminism itself.
Another element that needs to be given due credit is the self-hate and loathing that women undergo for performing menial tasks. They also limit their thinking and ability in many contexts (especially those coming from the economically weaker sections of society). It is seen by common experience that if you educate a man, you educate one person, but if you educate a woman, she has the power and mental conditioning to educate an entire household. So, giving women respect and bringing them out of their shells is a necessity for society to progress as a whole.
The term “masculism” is credited to Charlotte Perkins Gilman (an American Sociologist and Utopian Feminist), in her public lecture series in 1914. It’s a movement which began in the 90s and advocates men’s rights. It’s a common belief that this movement originated to spite feminism and was an answer to the women’s equal rights movement. Regardless of the true intentions behind the origin of masculism, the questions still remain: do we really need masculism and what does it really mean?
In my opinion, masculism stands for equality for men in areas where they are unfairly treated and have limited rights. There is a huge disapproval from a significant population over the need for masculism. However, in reality we actually need a voice for men too. It is no mystery that men do enjoy certain privileges in society, but there are still some areas where men are quite negatively portrayed. Male Objectification is an issue which is almost never discussed, and is as equally disastrous as its counterpart. Violence against men is usually considered humorous and is treated differently than that committed against women. Even men are victims of complementarianism and traditional gender roles. Men are often expected to work in a professional setting and the choice to be a homemaker is often ridiculed, which is as harsh as workplace bullying against women and has long-lasting effects. Masculism also tackles problems such as adoption, custodial rights, and military conscription.
An important aspect that has led to genocides in the forms of shootings and bombings in recent times has been really catching the eye and is a seriously worrying trend. Most of them are lone-wolf attacks and most of the culprits/perpetrators are males with a disturbed mindset. One of the major reasons for these has been the inability of men to express themselves due to fixed gender-role bias. An expressive or emotional man is considered a weakling, and male mental health issues are never given the due consideration they need. Males are expected to be strong mentally and to get on with life despite whatever setbacks they face or emotional trauma they undergo. This is a major factor resulting in many of them becoming violent and destructive in nature. So gender equality should also mean addressing this issue.
The very existence of misogyny can be credited for sparking the gender equality movement. Radical masculism or misogyny is rather evident in society. Discrimination against women and belittling of women is rampant around the globe and instilled in every society. Just like misandry, misogyny is responsible for creating obstacles in the fight for equality. Misogyny originates from the false belief of superiority and dominance of a man combined with irrational fear and hatred towards women. But in truth, there is no one as miserable as a misogynist.
In this so-called Men vs. Women battle, what both sides often neglect are the rights of Transgender and Third Gender people. There is no space for the rights of these people, and they receive hate and discrimination from both men and women. Transgender people are often confused for being gay, even though it involves gender identity and not sexual orientation. Third Gender people have never been allowed any kind of equality in society. The traditional binary-gender viewpoint doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of a Third Gender. Even the United Nations don’t seem to include them in their Fight for Gender Equality, nor does the ‘HeForShe’ campaign. It’s about time that we acknowledge these people and include them in this fight. No movement for Gender Equality is complete without the Transgender and Third Gender!
It’s not a Men vs. Women fight, it never was. There will always be those who try to make it that way. It’s a fight which concerns all of us. Gender inequality affects all us in some way or the other. The effects may not be visible immediately but they can be felt over time. It’s not a fight which can be segregated on national or religious grounds, because these factors have nothing to do with providing a sustainable solution. Misogyny and misandry arise from our own twisted insecurity. In the end, we need to realise that misandry isn’t feminism and misogyny isn’t masculism!
This is a fight for equality and not retribution. There is no place for ego, neither male nor female.
The author, Vardhan Patil, is a Mechanical Engineer. He is co-authoring a book on psychological disorders in Indian teenagers.
Tweet at Vardhan: @VardhanPatil4
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